//
you're reading...
Social Issues

Life as a white man on an Aboriginal community


Back in the year 2000, I was honoured to be invited to live and work on the Aboriginal community of Woorabinda, 170 km south west of Rockhampton in Central Queensland.

Woorabinda had a population of about 3000 then, and there were only 21 non-Indigenous people living on the community.

I was employed by the local Aboriginal Corporation to work at Wadja Wadja High School as the TAFE Coordinator and Teacher, initially teaching Literacy and Numeracy to students aged 16 and over.

At the beginning of the school term, we only had eight students enrolled, but by the middle of the year we had 83. The people of the community saw the benefits of the program, and there was great enthusiasm to be a part of it.

It was a joint venture between the Woorabinda Council, Queensland TAFE and NSW TAFE, delivering Certificates I, II, III and IV in Literacy and Numeracy and Certificate II in Horticulture. We had two TAFE teachers, including myself, teaching these courses.

We later extended this to include the Certificate III in Information Technology, Art classes, Life Skills classes, Cooking and Basic Business Skills, with eight teachers involved, and about 30 local community members employed as reading coaches.

While we had dedicated classrooms in the high school, we also enjoyed holding many of our classes outside in the bush.

Another achievement of the program was to convince the Queensland government to train local Aboriginal residents as Justices of the Peace (JPs) to hear misdemeanour matters that would normally involve a magistrate and a court, and for these JPs to be able to assign community service orders. The hearings were conducted on a Wednesday morning at the local police station.

If found guilty by their peers, they would have a choice of doing community service or attending the TAFE classes to complete their community service hours. Most that chose TAFE stayed on well past their community service hours.

The local police estimated that it cut recidivism amongst those that chose TAFE by about 50%. This idea was later picked up by the Queensland government, and legislated as the Murri Courts in 2002.

We also had visits by representatives of Batchelor College (NT) and Booroongen Djugun (Kempsey, NSW), two of the leading providers of Aboriginal education in Australia, to share methodologies and help design programs.

Two of our distinguished guests that came to give motivational speeches were Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Cathy Freeman. Evonne even had a few hits of tennis with some of the students and teachers, including giving me a thrashing in what eventuated to be a very quick game of wall tennis.

I won’t embarrass myself by recounting how a 50 metre foot race with Cathy Freeman ended.

Outside work, my favourite activities were attending weekend-long outings into the bush, where I learnt Aboriginal folklore, art, music and dancing at corroboree ceremonies.

I also enjoyed the Thursday night discos at the local community club. Initially, there was a sense of surrealism about being the only white man in a pub packed with 200 people, and I was treated as a bit of a curiosity. Eventually, however, I became one of the regulars, and was accepted as an equal.

The greatest compliment I received on the community was being told by one of the Elders: “You might have white skin, but you’re a black man.” I still wear this as a badge of honour today.

Of course Woorabinda, like all Aboriginal communities, has it’s problems. Unemployment is high, health problems are high, health services are scarce, education services are under-resourced and the community is often ignored by both state and federal governments.

Much of this goes back to the racist policies of 1927, when the community, along with many others, was set up to relocate Aboriginal people out of the cities – a sort of out of sight, out of mind mentality.

Along with the good times, I experienced an overwhelming sense of despair and powerlessness to change it.

This is where governments need to step in. Health and education services need to be improved, and opportunities for employment need to be created.

The hardworking individuals who give up their lives in the city and their time to move to these communities can’t do it on their own.

A common complaint from the doctors, nurses, police officers, social workers and other professionals on the community was that they felt abandoned, and that government never listened to them. Those in power in the city thought they knew better than those actually living and working there.

This was also a common lament of the residents of the community.

Despite all this, it was the best year of my life. I got to experience and understand Aboriginal culture in a way that few of us ever do.

Sadly, however, all good things come to an end, and at the end of the year, the city lights beckoned me back to Rockhampton where I worked with Aboriginal street kids. This is a story for another day.

I have had many opportunities to work with Aboriginal people since then, in both Queensland and NSW, but Woorabinda was by far the best. I will never forget it.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

The costs of campaigning for changes to government legislation are considerable. If you appreciate this work, please consider donating so we can continue operating in this area.

The money raised will be spent on campaigning to state and federal MP s, as well as newspapers and other media across Australia, to improve social justice for all.

Please bear in mind that while I am a business consultant, I only work part time due to also being a disabled pensioner. I intend to take these matters to court, but that takes time and money.

Any money raised through donations will be kept in a separate bank account to cover these costs.

I would also welcome any help from legal professionals, or professionally qualified volunteers who are willing to assist.

The costs of campaigning for changes to government legislation are considerable. If you appreciate this work, please consider donating so we can continue operating in this area.

The money raised will be spent on campaigning to state and federal MP s, as well as newspapers and other media across Australia, to improve social justice for all.

Please bear in mind that while I am a business consultant, I only work part time due to also being a disabled pensioner. I intend to take these matters to court, but that takes time and money.

Any money raised through donations will be kept in a separate bank account to cover these costs.

I would also welcome any help from legal professionals, or professionally qualified volunteers who are willing to assist.

The costs of campaigning for changes to government legislation are considerable. If you appreciate this work, please consider donating so we can continue operating in this area.

The money raised will be spent on campaigning to state and federal MP s, as well as newspapers and other media across Australia, to improve social justice for all.

Please bear in mind that while I am a business consultant, I only work part time due to also being a disabled pensioner. I intend to take these matters to court, but that takes time and money.

Any money raised through donations will be kept in a separate bank account to cover these costs.

I would also welcome any help from legal professionals, or professionally qualified volunteers who are willing to assist.

Choose an amount

A$2.00
A$5.00
A$10.00
A$5.00
A$10.00
A$20.00
A$20.00
A$50.00
A$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

A$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

About Craig Hill

Social Justice Campaigner. Business and Education Consultant. Former Business/ESL Teacher. Lived in China and USA. Dealing with disability. My articles have been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and many other international publications.

Discussion

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you liked what you just read, click "Subscribe" to become a follower of the Craig Hill site. You will receive an email each time a new post is published.

Join 1,786 other subscribers

Follow me on Twitter

%d bloggers like this: